As I made the long journey back to Berlin I reflected with some content on the good things I had seen at Soltau, and I felt convinced that the men in charge of the camp do everything within their power to make the life of the prisoners happy. But as the train pounded along in the darkness I seemed to see a face before me which I could not banish. It was the face of a Belgian, kneeling at the altar in the Catholic chapel, his eyes riveted on his Saviour on the Cross, his whole being tense in fervent supplication, his lips quivering in prayer. My companions had gone, but I was held spellbound, feeling “How long! How long!” was the anguish of his mind. He must have been a man who had a home and loved it, and his whole expression told unmistakably that he was imploring for strength to hold out till the end in that dreary, cheerless region of brown and grey.
His captors had given him a chapel, to be sure, but why was he in Germany at all?
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Soltau and other camps are satisfactory—but there are others, many others, such as unvisited punishment camps. The average Britisher in confinement in Germany is under the care of an oldish guard, such as Heiny of the Landsturm, but the immediate authority is often a man of the notorious Unteroffizier type, whose cruelty to the German private is well known, and whose treatment of the most hated enemy can be imagined.
The petty forms of tyranny meted out to German soldiers such as making a man walk for hours up and down stairs in order to fill a bath with a wineglass; making him shine and soil then again shine and soil hour after hour a pair of boots; making him chew and swallow his own socks have been described in suppressed German books.
I believe that publicity, rigorous blockade and big shells are the only arguments that have any effect on the Prussians at present. It is publicity and the fear of opinion of certain neutrals that has produced such camps as Soltau. It is difficult for the comfortable sit-at-homes to visualise the condition of men who have been in the enemy atmosphere of hate for a long period. All the British soldiers whom I met in Germany were captured in the early part of the war when their shell-less Army had to face machine-guns and high explosives often with the shield of their own breasts and a rifle.
Herded like cattle many of the wounded dying, they travelled eastwards to be subject to the insults and vilifications of the German population. That they should retain their cheery confidence in surroundings and among a people so ferociously hostile so entirely un-British, so devoid of chivalry or sporting instinct, is a monument to the character of their race.
HOW THE PRUSSIAN GUARD CAME HOME FROM THE SOMME